March Update!

March has been an interesting month.

First, on the education front, I have switched departments (finally!). No longer am I stuck in that drab reality of “Fine Arts”, which was basically go in and do something and make up some form of justification. Instead, I have finally made it back to where I really belong: Theatrical Design. The down side is that I have a whole new class of people to get to know, and they all already know each other really well.  The upside is that I got out of all forms of midterms with no detriment to my grade because of the timing of the switch (I had to begin with the Theatre department on the 17th, but the midterm for the Fine Art department was on either the 17th or the 20th, thus meaning that I couldn’t participate.

Yay for two months of work meaning nothing! (And this is serious excitement, because I wasn’t looking forward to writing a paragraph about my current art work, a page about a previous art work, a proposal for a work for an exhibition, and finishing a piece).

In Theatrical Design, I have four classes: Sceneography (which is our main design class; we are going to be working on sceneographic and costume designs for Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a play I don’t particularly care for, mostly because of the character of Hamlet, but it is Shakespeare, so it is automatically super-fun to design); Costume Technique (in which we learn methods of constructing costumes), 2D3D (which is a class that is all about rendering methods, although the professor is having some health issues at the moment, so the class is postponed until further notice); and Sources of Inspiration (which is my rough translation of Inspiratiebronnen. All I actually know about the class is that the chair of the department, Pien, talks a lot about finding and feeling the positive energy of things. Apparently, by the end of the class, you are either mentally dead, or filled with negative energy rather than positive energy).

All in all, I’m excited for this new department (in part because my design for Hamlet, at least, how it is working in my head at the moment, is going to be pretty awesome).

This weekend, a friend from Grinnell is coming to visit; I am really excited to run around the city and do things with her.  Also, we’ve recieved warning that there is going to be a big protest on Saturday on Dam Square concerning a new film that was released about the Koran (it was made by a Dutch filmmaker). Now, the last time a Dutch filmmaker released a controversial film about Islam, he was assassinated, so this could be pretty tumultuous (especially since all of the moderate Muslim clerics have been leaving to France and other countries because they felt persecuted here, so they have been replaced by uncertified, radical clerics).

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Fortunately, if things do get crazy, I already have a playlist made to combat the negative energy! (It is my Anti-Hate playlist, which I created after the hate crimes occurred at Grinnell. It’s probably one of my favorite playlists of all time). The flagship song of this playlist is pretty predictable, since it is exceedingly popular (“Imagine” by John Lennon) but, eh, it’s a beautiful song, and I agree with every word of it.

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Yesterday, I redecorated my room to create a second space, but I woke up to all of the fabric I hung from the cieling on the floor, which was sad. I am going to try and find a better way to attach it to the cieling, since masking tape isn’t making the cut.

I know I say this, but I will upload more pictures soon! Probably after this weekend, because I will have more pictures to load. I’m not a touristy person, and don’t really see the point in taking pictures of every little thing everywhere (although I did get pictures of the Guy Fawkes Mask Anti-Scientology Protest that happened last Friday. It was awesome).

An Interesting Break

I had originally planned to spend my spring break seeing museums and walking about the town. This didn’t really happen (in part because I stayed up late one night and had a messed up sleep schedule for the rest of the week). However, circumstances have been somewhat interesting this week.

Although my contact with Grinnell is limited (but still fairly extensive, all things considered), I have been keeping up on most current events there.

A week ago today, a student (or multiple students) committed a hate crime against a queer individual. They wrote slurs on walls and white boards, tore down posters and personal belongings, and generally defaced the building.  Ultimately, it ended up that the act was classified as a “bias crime” (hate crime) under Iowa law.

The response on campus was much of what I expected. Most were shocked and outraged that such a thing could happen at Grinnell; some doubted that it happened. The queer community on campus organized both a resolution to make Grinnell College a hate-free campus and a rally which ended in an open forum about what happened. The rally and open forum happened last night (Thursday night).

This morning (well, more of this afternoon) when I checked my e-mail (as well as the campus blog through which I get most of my information about Grinnell), I found out that there was another hate crime against queer individuals. An individual (or individuals)  sent out letters to out queers (as well as a lot of other people, queer and not-queer) that said offensive things of a homophobic nature (the one addressed to me, which was intercepted by campus security, said “FEAR GOD, NOT FAGS”.).

Why put this on here? There are two reasons.

First, because making this event (and events like it) visible is a necessary step towards acceptance on all social levels. Harassment against queers is still one of the hardest litigations to prove in the legal system (many states don’t recognize discrimination based upon sexual orientation as discrimination at all, much less events like this). Part of this is because queers across the country don’t feel like they are entitled to, or should, report discrimination and oppression based upon sexual orientation. Part of this is because the majority of the public remains ignorant of these things.

And second, because I’m not sure how to react. This is the first time where it has been made clear that I’m not part of the white, male, heterosexual privileged group. This is the first time that someone has ever used a slur in reference to me directly. And it’s kind of scary, to be honest. Just the thought that someone could harbor that much hatred (or, worse yet, “righteous rage”, as it might be called by religious fanatics, and that’s what they are, fanatics) against me without actually knowing me is unnerving.

I guess, mostly, I wanted to convey the information to you guys. And end on a somewhat more pleading note:

Whether or not you “agree” with queer individuals is irrelevant. At a fundamental level, so is the “birth or choice” argument in this case. What is important is one small fact: we are still people. As people, we have every right to live in safety and without fear. As people, we deserve respect and tolerance. As people, we still have emotions.

And whether you like it or not, you are stuck with me.

So keep me in mind next time you hear someone use derogatory terms such as “gay” or “fag”.  All I ask, as an initial step to combating this hate, is an open mind and tolerance. We’re not out to steal children or corrode the moral base of life. We’re simply trying to live while being ourselves, and we deserve every right that you have.

Ultimately, though, tolerance isn’t enough. Turning a blind eye to the situation is tantamount to helping the individuals who committed these crimes, and other crimes like them. Perhaps it’s too much to ask, but if you consider yourself an ally, speak up and speak out.

Okay, I’m leaving the soap box now.

More Time Gone: School and a Field Trip!

Well, week two of my life in Amsterdam is coming to a close. I started school this week (kind of, since I don’t know if you can actually call it school).

So, the Rietveld Academie is one of the better art schools in Europe (it has quite the reputation). Over half of the students are international. Random facts, I know.

The most interesting thing: there is NO structure whatsoever.

Monday, I met with Bas van Leeuwen, the head of the Fine Arts department. He gave me an information packet and talked to me about what I can expect while I am studying at the Rietveld. I am in group 2B (which is with the third-year students in the fine arts department). I have three tutors and a mentor. Monday, since my mentor was in Tokyo, I left after my meeting with Bas. Tuesday, I went back to school and met with Loes van den Putte and Tom Thijsse, two of my tutors. Loes is a sculptor and Tom focuses on drawing instruction. After  introducing myself (kind of) and being embarassed that I didn’t have any portfolio things with me, we got down to business.

Loes and Tom decided to give me a drawing assignment. The theme is “No Man’s Land”, based off of a play by the same title authored by Harold Pinter. My assignment was to read the play, then do a bunch of drawings around the theme of “No Man’s Land”.  Well, that’s great. I started to write down my assignment in my sketchbook when Loes took it away and chastised me for not respecting my work as an artist.

I should note here that perhaps the scariest thing about Loes is that she reminded me a lot of Grandma House. You see, they have similar colorings and facial structures. I guess the main difference between the two (that I could find on such short contact with Loes, I am sure that there are many differences about them) was that Grandma is nice, while Loes was just kinda… not. Anyway, back to the story.

Now, I am not going to go into the difficulties I faced, trying to find an English Play in Amsterdam. It took me about four hours (and it was raining and miserable.)  Finally, I found it in a used book store I had visited in my first three days here.

What I am instead going to focus on is the existential quandary  Loes’s statement put me in. You see, I have avoided thinking of myself as an artist up to this point. Until now, I have just been someone who paints or draws because I am bored or because it is fun (or because it is required by my homework). Note that I haven’t defined myself as an academic, either, I am just kind of there.

Now, reading what I have written two days after first writing it, I can’t remember where I was going with that statement. Anyway…

Friday, I went to Utrecht with two kids on my program (John and John) and the IES Director Chantal. It was pretty cool. We walked from Utrecht Centraal to the Central Museum of the city, where we took a tour of the Rietveld House (a house constructed in 1920s-1930s by Gerrit Rietveld, one of Holland’s most profound architects). Being a true newbie to tourism, I once again forgot my camera, so no pictures of Utrecht there.  We then walked around Utrecht for a bit, visited a few stores, went to dinner at a fancy restaurant/pub/brewery/theatre, and then caught the train back to Amsterdam Centraal (or A’Dam Centraal as it was referred to onboard the train). By this time, it was, once again, raining and dreary.

It seems as if my honeymoon period of good weather and sunshine is at an end (for it is once again, raining and windy). It is, however, a great deal warmer than Iowa at the moment. I think, all around, it is much more fun here, too.

Once I finish my drawing work, I might take a few photos and place them on the internet.

Day Three: Jet-Lag receding!

Day Three in Amsterdam.

Just so you know, this day count is going to die really quickly (probably when I hit double digits).

Well, a quick summary of my flight issues, since some people already know. The size of the plane I was supposed to catch from Houston to Amsterdam was downgraded because the larger one needed maintenance (a row of chairs, or two, were not properly attached to the floor of the aircraft. THAT makes me feel safe). 70-80 people were kicked off of the flight and moved to others. All of us were comped in a hotel with food. I used all my food vouchers on one delicious, but expensive, meal then hung out with a 21 year old girl from So Cal, a middle-aged dutch woman, and many others (26 year old dutch guy, middle aged business man on his way to Florida, two soldiery guys that were on their way to Iraq, etc. etc.) I caught a flight the next morning at 9:00 AM to Newark-Liberty Airport in New Jersey, then a 4:40 PM flight from New Jersey to Amsterdam, arriving at 5:00 AM in Schiphol Airpoirt, where I had to wait for two and a half hours until I could start making my way across the city to the IES Center. Once I made it there (it was so scary!) I had a full day of orientation and finally collapsed into bed around midnight.

So far, I have gone to my school (which is in the Nieuw Zuid section of Amsterdam, which is unfortunate since the Nieuw Zuid is in a separate transportation zone and thus costs me an extra strip when I travel on the trams and buses), met the international student mentor guy, gone out with the international exchange students, bought a bunch of art supplies so I have something to do on Monday when I start classes, and wandered around the city a bit. Once, I got lost and couldn’t find my way back; luckily, I had the number for the Taxi Centrale Amsterdam in my wallet. I called a taxi and took it home (apparently, I wasn’t that far away!)

I have found that I enjoy walking around the city (though, so far, I haven’t willingly walked any distance greater than 1.5 km) in part because I take the tram to my location, am there for less than an hour, and get back on without having to pay for another fare! I was tempted to walk home from the Stadhouderskade (where I had to register as a citizen of Amsterdam) but, after buying about 180 Euro of art supplies, decided I should take the tram to Centraal Station instead.

I bought french fries today! IN DUTCH! I was so proud of myself. They were delicious, too.

I now understand why my mom eats french fries with Mayonaisse. Over here, it is absolutely fantastic.

(Perhaps I will bring home a bottle of fritessaus for her).

That is all for now. I am going to try and figure out how to change the links over to the right and, once I do, my photobucket account will be linked.

The Beginning!

Perhaps it is best to begin this blog while still in the States. Perhaps not. Regardless, I am starting it now! I, Brock, leave for Amsterdam in two days (one, if you don’t count the day of departure nor the current day; three if you count both the current day and the day of departure). While there, I will be studying Fine Arts and Theatrical Design/Art Direction at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie , an art and design school in the Nieuw Zuid neighborhood of Amsterdam. It is roughly 8 km (about 5 miles) from my housing in the northern Western Islands/Jordaan neighborhood. This is really boring.
I’m living in a flat (where I have a single room, for which I am very glad). I don’t know who my flat mates are, and I hope they aren’t scary. (Aside: I feel like I am a fourth grader writing a really bad essay for class).
Those are the boring parts of what I had to say. Now to the exciting parts.
Earlier this week, I decided to shift my cultural preparation for Amsterdam from attempting to learn Dutch, an effort that has been both foiled and enhanced by my background in German, to listening to Dutch music. You see, being almost fluent in German (in a strictly academic sense, not a real world sense), I can read Dutch fairly easily. I cannot, however, pronounce the words well at all. I tend to swtich into German pronunciation at the slightest anxiety. Its kind of fun, to be honest: I don’t actually recognize that I have switched into German until I have been going for a bit.
But back to the music.
I proceeded to search Google for the Netherlands’ Top 100 Chart. Once I found it, I proceeded to acquire, possibly through nefarious means, the songs of which I had never heard, while ignoring the simply atrocious American songs that people seem to like (Aside: Lead example number one of this is Rihanna. She isn’t pretty, she can’t sing very well, AND her lyrics are simply awful. Yes, Rihanna, I got the fact that you had an Umbrella the first time you said the word. You don’t need to break it down into phonics for me. I graduated from the first grade years ago. Thanks.)
My favorite song of the lot is actually by a fairly new Dutch band called Leaf. The song itself belongs on a summer road-trip mix tape: it has a laid-back, care-free quality which is perfect for driving down a country highway with your windows down, singing along, driving with no real destination.

“Wonderwoman” by Leaf

And with that, I am done.
To life!